Former Mayor Eddie A. Perez's lawyer reiterated his argument Tuesday that Perez's bribery and extortion cases should not have been combined, and that as a result the jury was unfairly prejudiced against Perez.
Evidence from both cases was shown to the jury during the course of a single trial, "destroying the credibility of Mr. Perez," Hubert J. Santos told a three-judge panel during a hearing at the state's Appellate Court.
"All of this was thrown at the jury in one sitting," he said. "By the time we got up to present our defense, we were pretty much cooked. The jury had already heard that he was a liar, a crook and a thief."
"I think it was extremely prejudicial."
Perez and his wife, Maria, both dressed in black, arrived at court early Tuesday. After the hearing, Perez said: "It's in the Lord's hands." He declined further comment.
As he was leaving court, Santos told reporters, "It was a spirited argument and we're hoping for the best."
Santos and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Harry D. Weller each had 20 minutes Tuesday to argue their sides of the appeal. Chief Appellate Court Judge Alexandra Davis DiPentima, Appellate Court Judge Douglas S. Lavine and Judge Trial Referee Thomas A. Bishop, a former Appellate Court judge, heard the case and are expected to release a written judgment.
After the hearing, the judges will vote on the case behind closed doors. A majority vote by the judges will decide whether the convictions are sustained or overturned. Court officials have said that a written judgment could be released soon after the hearing, or take up to several weeks or months.
Santos has asked that the convictions be reversed, and that Perez receive two new, separate trials. Weller has asked that the convictions be upheld.
Weller pointed out Tuesday that the trial court was willing to allow Perez to take the stand and testify in one case, while remaining silent on the other.
But Santos said that Perez's silence in one case but not in the other would have made the former mayor look even worse.
"It [would have] put us in an untenable position," he said. For jurors to hear Perez's testimony in one case but not the other, "that's pretty hard, I think, for many jurors to swallow," Santos said.
"Once you put these things together you are swimming against a tide that is just too overwhelming to deal with," he said.
Perez's attorneys have said that he wanted to testify in the bribery case, but not in the extortion case. Perez wanted the opportunity to explain why he lied to an investigator about having paid for discounted renovations to his home, Santos said.
Weller countered that the jury was properly instructed and that it was clear the jurors understood the court's direction because they acquitted Perez on one count while convicting him on five others.
The jury found Perez guilty of conspiring to fabricate evidence and being an accessory to the fabrication of evidence, but acquitted him of fabricating evidence — a signal that the jurors carefully followed the law, he said.
"So even in the bribery case, where there was supposed to be a prejudicial lie, the jury not only separated the charges, but separated the elements," Weller said.
If Perez were truly prejudiced by the jury, he said, "There wouldn't have been the verdict that there was in this case."
Weller also argued that combining cases in general doesn't automatically put a defendant at a disadvantage. If a strong case and a weak case are joined together for one trial, he said, the weaker case could lead a jury to acquit a defendant of all charges.
Perez, 55, was convicted by a jury in June 2010 of receiving a bribe, being an accessory to the fabrication of evidence, conspiracy to fabricate evidence, conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny by extortion and criminal attempt to commit first-degree larceny by extortion. The trial lasted four weeks, and the panel reached its verdict after deliberating for about 10 hours over portions of three days.
The former mayor was sentenced in September 2010 to three years in prison. His attorneys filed an appeal shortly afterward.
Perez, who has been free on bond, resigned from the city's top post a week after his convictions.
Prosecutors had charged that Perez accepted discounted home-improvement work from a city contractor, Carlos Costa, in exchange for Perez's help in holding on to a $5.3 million contract to reconstruct Park Street, a job mired in problems.
Costa and other witnesses testified that Perez assigned Charles Crocini, director of capital projects in the mayor's office, to run interference for Costa and try to settle $1.7 million in claims from Costa for extra payments beyond the contract price, even though public works officials and an expert consultant said that most of the claims lacked merit.
The state also contended that Perez wanted North End politician Abraham Giles to be paid to vacate a parking lot on a sliver of land crucial to a developer's plans for a condominium and shopping center. Prosecutors said that in 2007, Perez attempted to extort money from a private developer for Giles' benefit, and that, in return, Giles would secure votes for Perez, who was running for re-election.
Perez exploited Giles' influence in the city's 5th District, prosecutors said, steering lucrative no-bid parking lot deals and other business arrangements to Giles in exchange for a promise to deliver votes and ensure Perez the endorsement of the Democratic town committee.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun